Bear Mountain Capital Inc.

Financial Anxiety and Family

| February 4, 2024


Girl Doing Finances

For many parents, when it comes to thinking about money and kids, there are so many questions to think about. How do I raise my kid without spoiling them?  What is a fair allowance? Do I pay them for chores/grades? Do I pay for private school? Do I pay for their college? How do I give them the best chance at success in life? Should I leave them an inheritance?

Each solution to one of these questions is loaded with our own personal biases. It’s likely your answers will be driven by how you were raised or your own personal experiences. The solution will also be significantly impacted by your spouse or partners own experiences and perspectives. Opinions are wide and varied on all of these topics and can be overwhelming to think about.

Milk Rice is Gooooood

Growing up, I was a sensitive kid (okay, I’m still a sensitive kid). I was significantly impacted by the emotions of financial decisions in my parent’s lives. They didn’t know it, but I was listening to every conversation, every disagreement, and cueing in on key phrases that ultimately shaped how I felt about finances as an adult. 

For a period of my life I thought we were “poor” early on as a family. This thought was predominantly attributed to one event in my life that disproportionately affected me for a very long time. As a kid, my mom loved to cook milk rice as a meal, on occasion. If you don’t know, milk rice is literally rice cooked in milk (and topped with cinnamon and sugar). As you may imagine, I’d complain loudly about eating this meal when served. One time during an overly expressive moment I asked  “WHY do we have to have milk rice again!?”, with zero hesitation, my mother shot-back “because that’s all we can AFFORD!!”. The response stunned me and I dutifully finished my plate.

To be sure, my mom does not recall this moment, but it is as clear as day in my head. When retelling this event she shakes her head and makes it very clear that we always had plenty to eat and were never in-fact destitute early on in our lives. But, as parents often do, we exaggerate to make our points or to end an exhausting conversation with a less than understanding 8 year old. 

Bowling is Expensive

Eventually, my Dad went on to start his own business; a small software company that employed about 80 people. Finances got easier and I began to realize we had things that other kids didn’t have. Ultimately, my parents provided us a great life that allowed for much adventure. 

However, despite some of the financial success my parents worked hard for, I do recall a lot of financial anxiety in my parent’s conversations. Again, this was not because we were poor (as I learned much later), but because when raising a family there are always hard choices to make when it comes to what you spend money on. 

To be sure, my parents hustled to make it in life, and by all accounts made the most of their situation. But like most of us, they had their fair share of financial discussions and arguments on more than a few occasions. While I didn’t know it at the time, it turned out that I was an unintentional sponge of the stress and anxiety associated with those moments. On one such occasion, I sincerely thought that if I gave up bowling league (yes, bowling) it would help ease their stress. It was a clear overreaction by a young mind who did not fully understand what was happening in his parents’ lives.

Learned Behavior

Learning to discuss finances with your partner or spouse is difficult enough. Trying to discuss the complexity of financial demands with a child can feel impossible. However, the more we slow down and acknowledge to our children the hard choices we face, the better it will be for their development. 

Personal finance, budgeting, and basic financial planning is not taught in most of our schools. It is barely even considered as a recommended course of study in our universities. So, as a young person trying to make our way in a financially complex world, we’re often left unprepared.

Unless parents discuss personal finance with their kids and teach them their approach to making financial decisions, where else are they going to learn? When kids get a chance at an early age to understand the trade-offs between one financial choice and another financial choice, it opens up their minds to the challenges we all face as an adult and can prepare them for having to make similar difficult choices.

Another moment I recall, was about paying for college. Going to a 4 year university was very important for my parents. They had aspirations for us that drove them to work hard to help out with the costs of a higher education. But, when it came to paying for it, I remember my dad expressing very clearly: “whatever financing you cannot get through education loans, we’ll make sure we cover for you. BUT, if you get less than a C average in your coursework,  you will have to pay every dime back… deal?”

This was my Dad’s way of making me realize that education was a responsibility I had to take seriously, or there would be a consequence. I don’t think he would ever have made me pay him back, but early on I made sure that wasn’t even going to be a consideration. Learning that taking my education for granted may cost me dearly, certainly worked in this case.

Personal Finance is Hard

When it comes to teaching our kids how to have a healthy relationship with money, it helps if we have a healthy relationship with money ourselves. The reality is most of us do not. But, even if we don’t, we can use our experiences to help them avoid certain pitfalls or at least give them better insight into the financial choices and trade-offs coming up in their life. 

We can help them see how financial anxiety affects our decision making. We can let them know that these are common feelings, that if identified and understood early on, will help keep financial anxiety from bleeding into other areas of their lives unintentionally. Ultimately, being open and honest with ourselves and those around us, about our financial struggles goes a long way. Leading by example will likely always be the most effective way they learn.


Our financial lives are extraordinarily personal. Parenting styles are also very personal. The idea of talking about one or the other, let alone both at the same time, is enough to make most of us shut down. But, if we work hard to teach our children that money is not taboo, financial decisions are hard and that personal trade-offs are a way of life… we, undoubtedly will give our kids the best opportunity to be successful with their own financial decisions and their own lives. It may not be the answer to all the questions, but it’s a start.